‘Brutal’ or not, Tannehill will return

Friday, January 28, 2022, Vol. 46, No. 4

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill had three costly interceptions against the Bengals, two that led to Cincinnati field goals and another as the Titans were within 9 yards of a touchdown.

-- Photo By Mark Zaleski | Ap

By now, some of the sting of the Titans again blowing a No. 1 playoff seed has dissipated as reality has set in that yet again this team will not be in the Super Bowl.

Everything was seemingly lined up for 2021 to be the year the Titans finally got over the hump. After all, they had overcome injuries and having to use a record 91 players throughout the course of the season.

They figured out ways to win games without Derrick Henry for half a season and without A.J. Brown at times during the year. Most teams would have wilted under those conditions, but the Titans thrived to claim the top seed in the AFC and the bye that goes with it.

And for the playoffs, everyone was back – Henry, Brown, Julio Jones, plus a defense that had become and remained formidable (Nine sacks of Joe Burrow Saturday).

But it didn’t happen. The Titans fell to upstart Cincinnati on a last-second field goal, as the Bengals capitalized on three Ryan Tannehill interceptions – two of which led to Cincinnati field goals, including the game-winner, and a third that kept the Titans out of the end zone on first down at the Bengals 9-yard line late in the second quarter.

The interceptions that led to field goals were on Tannehill’s first and last tosses of the game.

And that is where the focus of this team now turns.

In 2019, when Tannehill replaced an ineffective Marcus Mariota, he was a savior at quarterback, putting up the best numbers the franchise had seen perhaps since Warren Moon. That season, Tannehill led the Titans to the AFC Championship Game, where they came up just short of the Super Bowl in Kansas City.

Last year, Tannehill and the offense, with Henry going for 2,000 yards rushing, were perhaps the most potent the franchise had ever sported. The Titans lost in the first round of the playoffs to Baltimore, but most of the focus on what had to improve centered on a woeful defense.

This year, though, there can be no other focus of the scrutiny than Tannehill, who now has three straight postseason losses as the Titans’ QB. Mike Vrabel was careful after the game to say the loss was not all on Tannehill.

“I don’t think Ryan or myself or anybody did enough to win the game. That’s how it goes. It’s never going to be about one person, not as long as I’m the head coach, which will be a while,” Vrabel said.

“So, it’ll never be about one person. We have to play better, get open, not fall down. Defense has got to get some turnovers. But we can’t turn the ball over, we know that. We can’t get stopped on downs. Those are all the things we talk about and reasons why you lose.

“Our third-down conversion wasn’t good enough, our ability to score touchdowns in the red zone, but we all have to play better, we have to coach better.”

Fair enough, but the quarterback is always going to be judged by postseason success or lack of it.

For his part, Tannehill didn’t shy away from his shortcomings.

“This is brutal. It’s going to hurt for a long time,” Tannehill acknowledged. “It is going to be on my mind for a long time. It is going to take a long time to get over. You don’t look forward to this situation. You don’t look forward to being out when you had a great opportunity, and this is just one of those things that time will heal.”

There is little doubt the Titans will roll with Tannehill, who will turn 34 as training camp opens in late July – in 2022.

Tannehill is a leader, a stand-up guy and good teammate – everything you could want in a quarterback.

But the Titans must hope that his slump in 2021 is a one-year aberration and not a trend. This year, albeit with an ever-changing cast, Tannehill threw 21 TD passes and 14 interceptions. He had just 13 interceptions in the previous two years combined to go with 55 touchdowns.

Even in training camp, though, Tannehill’s passes were getting batted and intercepted more than in the past. It was a hot topic at the time among those covering the team for various media outlets. Questions were dismissed as no big deal.

But then it continued into the regular season – remember the four interceptions during a November loss to the lowly Texans – and reared its head again Saturday at the worst possible time.

For the Titans to get where they want to go, they have to have a major bounce back year from Tannehill in 2022. And it doesn’t get any easier. Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow will likely continue to improve and aren’t leaving the AFC anytime soon.

“We have got to win,” Tannehill said. “We have got to win these critical playoff games. We overcame a lot to be here, but at the end of the day we have got to play really good and make the plays necessary to win the games in January.

“We will go back and look at everything. It was a lot of things where I think can grow from, learn from, throughout this year in what happened. I felt like we overcame a lot but when you go home in this sort of fashion it leaves a lot to be desired.”

Terry McCormick publishes TitanInsider.com and appears 2-4 p.m. weekdays on the George Plaster Show on WNSR-AM 560/95.9 FM.